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Auto Enthusiasts Want to Block Potential Toll Roads in Arizona

An example of an HOT lane on Interstate 15 in Utah.
An example of an HOT lane on Interstate 15 in Utah.
CountyLemonade via Flickr

A group of automotive enthusiasts is trying to prevent any roads and highways in the state from becoming toll roads.

Additionally, the proposed ballot initiative submitted by the group targets plans for potential toll lanes on highways, which would allow solo drivers to pay to use the carpool lane.

Such lanes are used in other states, but the Arizona Automobile Hobbyist Council filed an application for an initiative, in an attempt to prevent that from happening here.

The initiative would prevent "existing publicly funded or maintained roadways" from being turned into "any form of toll roads."

The organization has until July 3, 2014, to collect 259,213 signatures in order for the proposal to appear on voting ballots.

The Maricopa Association of Governments has already been studying potential "high-occupancy/toll" lanes, also known as "HOT lanes."

There are a lot of variables involved, like one option to convert the current HOV lanes on Valley highways into HOT lanes, or another option of adding an HOT lane in addition to the existing HOV lane. Also, they have to consider hours of operation, prices, and benefit, among other things.

A pair of researchers at Arizona State University have been studying the issue for some time now, and have a short paper explaining how the lanes, in general, can be beneficial.

It kind of reads like a lengthy SAT question, but check out the basic math, assuming a 25-mile freeway, with one HOV lane being converted into an HOT lane, using average transportation stats from government research:

"The worst congestion in the general-purpose lanes occurs between 5 and 6 p.m., when the flow rate is about 2,600 vehicles per hour (vph) per lane. The capacity of a freeway lane is considerably less at about 2,200 vph per lane. At this flow rate, the travel time on this 25-mile section will be about 60 minutes at an average speed of approximately 25 mph. The corresponding speed and travel time on the HOV lane during this same hour are 70 mph and 21 minutes respectively at a flow rate of about 900 vph. If the value of travel time savings is taken to be $15 per hour (i.e., people are willing to pay a quarter for every minute that is shaved off their travel time), then a $1 toll is worth paying as long as using the HOV (converted to HOT) lane saves the solo driver 4 minutes or more. As soon as the travel time differential between the HOT lane and the general purpose lane falls below 4 minutes, paying the toll and switching to the HOT lane is no longer worth it. Based on this reasoning, after a HOV lane is converted to a HOT lane, the traffic flow between 5 and 6 pm would be redistributed such that the HOT lane carries 2,100 vph and the general purpose lanes carry 2,200 vph per lane. In other words, about 1,200 vehicles have switched from the general purpose lane to the HOT lane and are now paying a toll. The new travel times would be 30 minutes on the HOT lane and 34 minutes on the general purpose lanes. This analysis can be repeated for all hours of the day, keeping in mind that the HOT lane would be operational during the hours of 6- 9 am and 3-7 pm and would be a general purpose lane during all other hours.

Once we add up all of the numbers, here is what we find. The HOT lane conversion on this 25 mile stretch of freeway results in a total daily time savings of 6,800 vehicle-hours or about 1.7 million vehicle-hours annually. Valued at $15 per hour, this time savings may be viewed as being worth $25.5 million annually. This is equivalent to an average time savings of 4 minutes worth $1 for each individual vehicle-trip on this 25 mile stretch of freeway. Meanwhile, the HOT lane itself is generating a revenue of $2,700 per day or $675,000 per year, probably enough to operate and maintain the high-speed electronic toll collection (ETC) systems required of HOT lanes. All of these numbers will get multiplied over depending on the total lane-miles of HOV to HOT lane conversion.

Although it may seem like a good plan to the researchers, there are obviously some issues with it, if a group of people wants Arizona voters to block the plans.

For one, the Maricopa Association of Governments notes on its website that, "Arizona House Bill (HB) 2396, passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Governor Brewer on July 13, 2009, enables the state, through the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), to consider the use of Public-Private-Partnerships (P3) as a tool for financing transportation infrastructure in Arizona."

That means there's a corporation that stands to make money off the proposed HOT lanes.

Here's a brief explanation of the objection to the lanes from the Arizona Automobile Hobbyist Council:

Our purpose is to shine a HUGE light on the fact that some in our legislature are planning with outside interests to bring TOLL ROADS to AZ in the very near future. A toll is just another tax, and we already pay one of the highest state gas taxes to maintain our roads in the country. Our state tax, added to the Federal gas tax, provides plenty of money to maintain our roadway system. The trouble is our government officials looks to the tax for other purposes. The more they tax, the more they spend.

To check out the Arizona Automobile Hobbyist Council's petition, click here.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.


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